We’re pleased to present our next excerpt from Sockhops & Seances – an exclusive look at Sophie Iles’ “A Single Wolf, Grey and Gaunt.” Something is attacking children in a small Cornish village – and a young boy is afraid the attacker is his only friend, a ghost dog he met in the graveyard.
On the outskirts of Cornwall, a little boy and a giant dog played fetch on the beach. Next to him, the dog in question was a giant. His paws left large marks in the sodden beach. Timmy put his hand next to the paw print, fingers sprawled out pink in the biting wind. He steadied himself before collecting the stick at his feet. Whilst Cornwall in Winter may not be ideal for tourists, this beach was ideal for the two of them.
The dog bounced around him, tail wagging high, and soon dropped his body low to the ground. His backside swung to and fro, large eyes following Timmy’s stick. The boy laughed.
“When was the last time you played with a stick, boy?” He took a step back, forcing his weight into his feet before launching the stick into the air. He wasn’t sure what was more exciting to watch, the stick as it soared or the hound as it bounded after it into the sea.
He couldn’t really be a ghost, Timmy thought. His form seemed solid, unwavering against the waves. Lancelot didn’t seem quite seem real. As though you could easily step through him if you looked at him in a different light. Perhaps it was because it was dark. Timmy wasn’t sure.
That hadn’t, however, stopped him from rushing forward with the stick in his jaws before placing it at Timmy’s feet with a yip.
“You want to go again, huh?”
The dog heeled, his head held high. Timmy laughed, this large boyish sound bubbling from his chest.
It surprised him. When was the last time he’d laughed?
“All right, all right! One, Two, Three: Go!” Leaping more like a horse than a dog, Lancelot tucked his legs under himself in a clumsy chase. Chilling waves washed up on the beach. It was that same chill was now creeping up Timmy’s duffle coat. He didn’t want to go home, not yet. But he knew he couldn’t stay out here forever, as the stick soared into the air and the dog bounded after it.
He felt what was almost slime on his hand. Lancelot was back but when he held up his hand there was nothing there. He could also hear him yip too. Lancelot was still able to tug on his sleeve, back towards the beach, before he nuzzled against the boys chest. It was all a ploy, of course, to get him to stay.
His smile fell. “You know I can’t. I have to go back, and so do you. Who’s going to protect the churchyard?”
Another whine. Lancelot nudged his head under Timmy’s hands so his fingers brushed his head. The fur was smooth to touch, slightly oily. Again he questioned it. How can you have fur, boy?
“You be a good boy and do all your guarding…and I’ll see you after school tomorrow. I’ll tell what happened to Lancelot…”
A last whine of understanding before the dog started to gallop away. His paw prints disappeared as the dog faded into the sea towards his home.
Pine and ash hit his nostrils as he opened the door. The smell drifted from his father’s study. He could hear the low tones and laughs his father made over the telephone. Slowly, he slipped off his shoes and coat. If he was careful, he would be able to get upstairs without them ever knowing he left.
But before he had a chance to walk past, the study door opened. Mr. Rowley, Timmy’s father, peeked out through the door. The man towered over him, tired lines under his eyes and a pipe perched in the corner of his mouth. He wore a waistcoat hanging open over a crumpled shirt. Removing his pipe, he spoke to his son. The tone was still enough to make Timmy stand a little straighter.
“You’re not planning to go out are you, boy?”
“No, father, I was just—”
“Best stay put. The Michelson girl is still missing. We don’t want your mother to worry, now, do we?”
Timmy shook his head, his face burning.
He was saved by the voice of his mother. “Timmy!” She called to him from the kitchen.
It was enough of an indication that the conversation was over. His father finally popped his pipe back into his mouth as he drifted back into his study. Timmy, relieved, moved into the door of the kitchen.
Much like the hallway, the kitchen was small. Inside, a still smaller woman stood stirring today’s meal on the hob.
“Timmy, could you wash your hands and get ready for dinner for me?”
Mrs. Rowley was round where her husband was slender. Strawberry blonde hair was tied up high in a ponytail so it wasn’t in the way of her work. She had the look of a woman who had lost a lot of weight rather quickly—gaunt cheeks, and dark circles under her eyes. Pasty skin to match the white walls of the family kitchen.
Timmy was washing his hands in the sink, when the music stopped. The news started to come through the small speakers but Mrs. Rowley hurriedly cut it off. She then dried her hands on her towel as she spoke, trying to dismiss her actions.
“Your father ate earlier so it’ll just be the two of us.”
Dinner was a morbid affair. Both Rowleys were quiet. Timmy was lost in his corned beef hash. Pushing it with his fork, he remembered the crashing waves and his friend pouncing through it. It was easier to focus on that than his mother staring blankly into the empty seat.
Dinner couldn’t be over soon enough.
It was time! Timmy rushed into the living room to set up the television. It was, in his opinion, the most wonderful part of their living room. The moment it turned on, their square room was injected with life and song. Timmy sat as close as he could get.
Trumpets announced that Sir Lancelot appeared on the screen. Not the dog, but the man. The hero. Large eyes absorbed the handsome knight with his short hair and kind eyes, wanting to help everyone he could and laughing with his friends. Timmy’s knees were tucked under his chin as he absorbed the beautiful settings and the interesting people. He watched to see what adventure Lancelot would be on today. Timmy could barely sit still, but his attention did not wander as he eventually sat cross legged with his leg craning up to the screen, his head high, excitement spread on his features. Adventure! Intrigue! Loyalty! It was called ‘The Lesser Breed,’ and there was sea monster terrorising a small fishing village, and Lancelot was asked by King Arthur “to find the people’s evil and destroy it.” He squeezed his legs tighter as Lancelot took on a horde of guards to save the slaves, rushing home to Camelot as the monster had been a trick by the Vikings all along.
Before he realised it, the episode was over. He’d have to wait another week to see what would happen to the knight and his squire. Despite that initial sorrow the theme song rippled from the small speakers and he found himself joining in, his head bobbing along in time.
That was until the door opened and his father peeked in. He cut the joy with a sharp look.
“I’m trying to concentrate, Tim—” He noticed the screen—the credits and the song—before giving a dark, short laugh. “You don’t like this drivel, do you? Raleigh Radford would be crying in terror.”
Timmy didn’t know who that was. His stomach churned. Mr. Rowley left without another word, shutting the door behind him, and with that Timmy turned off the television from the dial. As his head fell into misery, the television picture zapped away with it.
Once ready for bed, Timmy jumped to his desk. The desk was covered in drawings, scribbled in a variety of coloured crayon. Before the dog had come along, there had been other heroes to his stories. Some of them were present here. Lancelot was drawn over and over in different situations, mostly in the knight’s full armour and his leaf-shaped shield with the three red stripes. His sword held high. He had drawn Arthur too. Standing next to Lancelot, his arms were crossed. There was also a dragon in one picture, red and menacing, with Lancelot’s sword in its belly. He rarely drew other knights. Maybe Galahad, but only if he was feeling generous. How could Galahad compare to Lancelot, after all?
Now, however, it was time for a new drawing. Pulling his pad from the drawer next to him, he started to map out his new piece. First, the pebbles and sand as he had seen them today. His small fingers moved around to form circles. Once he was finished with that, he gently curved the shapes of the waves in small blue arches, and then drew the sun above them and clouds to cover it—the cliff and the graveyard just a figment in the distance.
His landscape was ready. It was time for him to draw the hero. Lancelot in reality was just was a mess of zig-zag lines, with space for eyes, and a red tongue. His own tongue stuck out as he worked on colouring him in completely, all black, before taking the end of his rubber and starting to try and rub it out. Just like Lancelot, just like his dog.
He moved the crayon around swiftly, trying to capture the speed of the ghost dog flying across the sand. He may never be able to capture the moment properly again, and a camera might show nothing, but he could feel it now with a stroke of a crayon. He wondered, as he finished his drawing…what is it like being a ghost? And, is that what Lancelot is? Is he like a vampire and won’t show up on camera? Am I the only one who could see him? Timmy didn’t know, perhaps he should consult his comic books.
Eventually, his mother knocked, insisting he get into bed. But even as he did, the building excitement for the following day nestled in his chest. He would see Lancelot again tomorrow, and it would be another good day. He knew it.
The following morning, Timmy was heading down the small crooked streets for school when he noticed that it was more ghostly than normal. Usually there was the sound of seagulls, but today there was nothing. No signs of any cyclists, or even the milkman at first.
Then Timmy walked past the paper shop. The newspaper headline for their local news clearly printed in black and white on the board outside.
MICHELSON MAULED BY MONSTER
The girl who he had seen at school was smiling back at him with a missing incisor tooth, plastered across every paper. His insides ran cold as he stepped back from the shop, backing straight into someone that caused him to trip over their shoes, only to be grabbed and steadied by the stranger.
“You okay there, kid?”
The accent was distinct. To the young boy he sounded like a movie star—a broad American tone that came from a broad shouldered man wearing mostly brown: a simple coat and scarf in the winter weather. He held a book in one hand, whilst his other was now tucked into his coat. This was not the right time of year for Cornwall to have tourists, and it took the boy aback as he stood dazzled. He’s almost sure he’s seen the man before…
The accent sparked again, bold and brass.
“Cat got your tongue, eh?” The American took a moment to think before shoving his free hand into his pocket, and passing Timmy a large chocolate coin wrapped in gold. Timmy could buy a whole batch of those at the Jones’s sweet shop for a penny on an afternoon, but the gesture was sweet enough.
“Might loosen it for you. Catch yah round!” Just like that, he left. Stepping out and round the building, out of sight.
What is attacking the town?
Can Timmy trust the American stranger?